We present you a collection of songs that put us in a summer state of mind. This music makes us think of looking out at giant blue skies from behind the steering wheel, windows down, heading who knows where. We're an eclectic bunch, so pardon our variety of musical tastes – and as you'll see, not all of the songs in our playlist are explained below (we'll let you figure out why we've chosen them for yourself). If you've got some songs that remind you of summer drives, add them in the comments section below and maybe we'll plug them into our Spotify list.
David Byrne – "Don't Fence Me In"
This song, a remake of Cole Porter's "Don't Fence Me In," was first made for an AIDS fundraiser album called Red Hot + Blue: A Tribute To Cole Porter, released in 1990. That was back when I was in high school, living the life of an extremely fenced-in teenager yearning for freedom. Now when I hear it, it brings me back to those first days of driving on my own, when the whole world seemed to lay out in front of me. When I'm feeling cabin fever and like the winter will never, ever freaking end, this song puts me right back in a roaming state of mind.
Bruce Springsteen – "Born To Run"
The title track of The Boss's third studio album is energetic, cathartic and one of the most fitting songs for highway cruising. The words implore the listener to get out on the open road, creating a sense of angst and urgency. Like most of the songs on this album, it's full-bodied: Everything from the vocals to the drums to the saxophone hits you hard and repeatedly. You almost need to roll down the windows and let the wind blow back your hair – which is the idea of another Springsteen track.
The Breeders – "Saints"
How could you not think of sweet, warm-weather fun, listening to Kim Deal singing the refrain, "Summer is ready when you are." Well, summer, I'm ready. And I love rolling the windows down and cranking the volume on this tune.
Har Mar Superstar – "Lady You Shot Me"
This song is relatively new, coming out in 2013, but it makes me think of sticky hot 1970s or 1980s summers. You know, those days when your thighs would stick to the hot vinyl in your mom's giant woodie station wagon? Those days when the air conditioning in the car barely cut the heat, and a family roadtrip vacation felt like some sort of child torture? Yeah, those good old days. It's amazing what a few days of minus 20 degree temperatures can make you yearn for.
DJ Jazzy Jeff And The Fresh Price – "Summertime"
Excuse me for being so literal, but for those of us of a certain age, Will Smith, at the time better known as his song-writing alter ego, was filling our ears with beats sampled from Kool & the Gang while simultaneously filling our eyes and seeming more like a big brother than a Hollywood star on television starring in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Suffice it to say, I spent many a summer of my misspent youth doing my very best to mimic the car-obsessed lyrics of the song "Summertime."
LCD Soundsystem – "Dance Yrself Clean"
I'll throw on LCD Soundsystem's album This Is Happening, regardless of time of year, but "Dance Yrself Clean" is especially good for sunny-day, preferably top-down driving (as demonstrated by yours truly in the image up top, behind the wheel of a 2015 Mazda MX-5 Miata). It's a long, lingering track that ramps from barely audible to downright loud, with a persistent backbeat that always gets my thumbs tapping the steering wheel. Sing along – everyone is watching and jealous.
Saves The Day – "Shoulder To The Wheel"
For several years after getting my driver's license, I made it a rule that any road trip had to include Saves The Day's Through Being Cool album. It's my favorite record, and "Shoulder To The Wheel" is my favorite song therein. To this day, whenever I'm embarking on a long drive, this album – and this song – are staples for the journey.
Arcade Fire – "Keep The Car Running"
With jangly guitar, a persistent beat and the repeated appeal to "keep the car running," Arcade Fire created one of my all-time favorite summer road trip anthems. Throw in a dash of mandolin for some folksy appeal, and you have an indie track that feels as home in the heartland as it does guiding you through the big city.
Sleater-Kinney – "Modern Girl"
Modern Girl is not a song about the summer drive, but the arrival. It's what you sing – loudly – when you get to your destination. Like all great songs, it's a contradiction. The chorus is uplifting and calls up a beautiful summer day. If that's all you want to sing, then your destination is probably the beach or a great picnic with friends. When you look at the verses, though, you realize there's a sadness here. A realization that this sunny day won't last forever. Somehow, that makes the warmth all the more special and worth singing about.
The Gaslight Anthem – "The Backseat"
This rollicking ode to youthful romance picks up where the characters of Springsteen's "Thunder Road" left off, leaving behind burned-out cars and driving off into their great summer adventure.
Out on a road trip that matches only Kerouac's frenetic pace, the young lovers ride their fever out of Austin and "dream of California lights." Who knows whether they reach them or crash back toward reality? "The Backseat" pays homage to its authors' Jersey roots, not just Springsteen, but also to that other Jersey legend. This song seems a reprise of Sinatra's "Summer Wind" all dressed up in unvarnished rock-n-roll glory.
And if you care about none of that, just know by the time the song reaches its coda, you'll be so enveloped in the tale that you won't care one iota that you look like a fool, drumming away on the steering wheel.
The Sounds – "Queen Of Apology"
The Sounds are probably my favorite Swedish rockers, and this is a song I love to have on the radio when I'm on a road trip. Ask anyone who's spent long periods of time in the car with me, and they'll surely recognize this jam.